French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, center, poses with French soldiers in front of an A400M French military transport aircraft in Gao, Mali. Improved intelligence assets have aided French operations in Mali and elsewhere. (Agence France-Presse)
PARIS — Several years of targeted investments have pushed France into the top Western ranks in technical intelligence capabilities, alongside the US, UK, Germany and Sweden, a French senior intelligence official said Friday.
Over the last few years, the French foreign and military intelligence services received funds to gear up and deliver data, particularly pictures from space, that were used on the ground in Afghanistan, Mali and Libya, the official said. French intelligence services worked together to send troops into Syria and bring them out again, the official said.
Pictures are considered as vital intelligence because political leaders want to see images before making critical decisions, the official said. Space and air assets complement each other, although French UAVs are underperforming the requirement. Military intelligence officers are working in the sub-Sahara, supporting troops and special forces on the ground.
The previous multiyear budget law, adopted in 2008, and the 2014-2019 update set a good balance in funds that allowed the intelligence agencies to feed data to the armed forces in those campaign, the official said.
There is a cohesion in the use of satellites, aircraft and drones. In Afghanistan, the US drew on the Reaper UAV and flew 35 King Air 350 light aircraft, the official said.
For visual data, France has its own satellites while Britain depends heavily on the US, the official said.
In the last few years, “France crossed the line to join the great agencies,” the official said. ■